My quantified life….I mean week and a half

Whether measuring sleep, flights of steps, various types of heart rate or “activity” whatever that might mean, all of this otherwise wasted data is right there for you dangling in the aether. You just need to pull it from the winds of your daily life, harness it, control it, and squeeze it into tools to power your life even more.

I’ve always been a sceptic of these things, but tracking has now become ubiquitous. Your phone does it. Now your watch with yet another screen does it. More and more people are joining the fray, hurling themselves into a better-managed life.

I got to talking with a friend who designs these sorts of things for a living about measuring heart rate. I have longstanding stomach issues. By issues I mean I’ve had food poisoning about ten times more often than most people, and the doctors have only half figured out why. But apparently, there’s this foggy notion of ‘inflammation’ in the body. You eat a bad thing, your become inflamed. This sounded right up my alley. I must be doing something – no matter how healthy I try to live – drastically wrong because I seem to be inflamed all the time. But this can allegedly be measured, like a tire gauge I imagined, by your heart rate.

So I strapped up and signed up with the Garmin Vivo 3 fitness tracker that among other things measures heart rate very accurately. I charged it. I connected it. I massaged its controls and stroked all the connections and adjustments all into place to begin my quantified life. It lasted a week and a half.

The first thing I noticed is that another device takes a lot of effort. It needed me to do things. It needed me to look at it, continually tap it, stroke it, charge it, feed and care for it like some twisted lifestyle blogger Tamagotchi for the worried well.

I was getting data though, specifically on my heart rate, and it was of course disappointingly inconclusive. It didn’t tell me shit as it were. I could not work out what was affecting what. There were no correlations, no graphs that matched up that pointed to the source.

I eat well one day, attempt this meditation thing and then lie down for a bit and get a 61. The following day I eat deliciously sugar-laden rubbish, endure an hour of misery being penned up in public transportation underground and get 66. One of my lowest heart rates was when I just had a curry while my kids were doing my head in. What are the scores even? How do I win? I soon realised, I can’t. There’s just too damn much, and most of it doesn’t connect, correlate or collect in a form that will ever make things better for me. What I’m left with is another thing that I need to manage.

It was there reminding me, sometimes three times along with my phone and computer all at once, that there’s so much more to do, so much more to quantify and that my inadequacy should be a nagging source of massive embarrassment. It begged me to tap it and view numbers at various times. It needed me so badly that it would start buzzing and pleading when it was away from the phone. It even had me whip my arm up in a very particular direction to tell the time. It was a relationship fit for daytime TV as it cajoled me into more and more worry that I wasn’t good enough and then gave me mixed signals in return.

Getting numbers about your regular, daily life is in some cases probably very useful, but only if you have the time to read loads of medical journals. I was going about things all wrong, mainly because I’m not a gastroenterologist in a controlled trial yet I was playing one. I don't need any more connection in my life and chances are you don’t either, yet we chain ourselves to systems and devices without any knowledge of what we’ll ever truly get out of them in the long run and any benefit beyond the novelty.

AR Etiquette for the Masses

If you’re on a bus in London, there is a general and codified understanding, mysteriously passed down through the ages, that you are as quiet as possible. If you’re on a bus in New York, there is a code of behaviour allowing you to blab about that no-good jerk and how he’s just not right for you as loud as you want, providing there is not any national tragedy. Personally, the first of the two customs is the one I enjoy more. It seems that manners in British society have largely, although not explicitly, filtered down through time to encompass our relationship with technology.

These things take time though, and when something is new, such as the use of all these new sorts of technologically mediated realities and their requisite headgear, these customs are not considered.

Consider the Google Glass. The now quietly and industrially revived but when launched way too ambitious augmented reality glasses. Released into the wild a mere four years ago, the wearer of the augmented glasses would be experiencing the world through the computer projecting information onto his world and cast into his eyes, querying and collecting via a tiny camera anything that came into view – and consistently uploading it to Google. If in the person’s view, you, the unwitting participant were also cast whether you liked it or not into this reality and some server somewhere. Controversy justifiably ensued.

Recently, I was at a virtual and mixed reality conference. As you do at these sorts of events, there were also people with headsets thrust into realities of various types, tethered to their glowing host machines like some budget Star Wars pilots scanning and nodding towards something only they could see. It is always a bit weird no matter how many times you see it.

Let me add though that I think this virtual and augmented reality stuff is cool. I’m not yet sure how cool, or in which way, but cool nonetheless. Besides the actual quality of the virtual or augmented reality experiences, that is to say, if walking around a field of orcs, for instance, the jury is still out on the social experience of it with others, the helmets and lenses into other worlds mixing into ours.

One of the interesting, and notice I didn’t write “cool,” headsets I saw that evening were Snap Glasses. Snap, the company behind Snapchat, a photo sharing app worth gazillions and inexplicably used by every kid between the ages of 14 and getting a job, now produces and sells a pair of comically although aesthetically well-designed glasses with cameras in them. The cameras, one on each side, take an eight-second video with a lens that apparently mimics human sight and the light goes on when videoing.

There were, perhaps thankfully, only two people wearing these things. And they were wearing them on their heads.

This was perhaps the most striking bit of it – that there was some amount of emergent, self-imposed decorum about having a direct feed to all of the internet of other people and their lives without asking their permission. Instead of walking around with them on intruding on everyone else’s world, they rested unused, casually parked but ready to roll, on the tops of their wearer’s heads. Just like sunglasses when inside, or when talking to someone. So not all the time, only when needed. I imagine it was the wearer’s signalling to the rest of us hapless and un-glassed that we were in a safe, unmediated space and that we wouldn’t end up in a feed somewhere whether we like it or not. Or maybe they were just heavy or uncomfortable.

And you know what, it was quite nice. Etiquette and manners evolved in various degrees to allow us to understand what was going on and to show respect. The veritable explosion of personal technology everywhere we turn happened before we had a chance of thinking about how the constant phone checking and tapping affected our relationships and trust. Shaking hands came from showing the other person you were unarmed, and cheers-ing with drinks proved you weren’t going to poison your drinking companion. Likewise, we need to think up some nice, clear and easy etiquette around the intrusive technology we’re thrusting into other people’s lives before it is too late.

10 things - April 2017

  1. Mastodon "Emperor of Sand" - Exquisite newish release by the behemoths. Another concept album moving from the best parts of old Baroness, nods to sludge and prog-rock all the while chugging along with amazingly melodic, foot-tapping tunes.
  2. The Mars Volta
  3. “Black Sails” (TV series) - As a kid I was thoroughly fascinated with pirates on a number of levels, from their views on race and society to just being punk as you can be during the birth of capitalism via mercantilism. They were not nice people in general, but that aside, the series itself does a lot to examine issues of the day, especially in terms of colonialism, slavery, race, sexuality and commerce. Replace the dragons in GoT with cannons and sails.
  4. Mesh networking - Something I used to be really fascinated with and perhaps an antidote to the corporate playground the internet has become?
  5. The Dolmus - The mini-bus tax/bus thing that gets you around Istanbul. Positively gorgeous emergent un-design. Best of all, no apps (I hope), just hop in/out strong localism.
  6. All or nothing drinking - Something I’ve been toying with which is either a minimum of a bunch of drinks or none.
  7. Post-nationalism
  8. Proto-Enlightenment - the late 1600’s in Europe were where our world today was born. Its fascinating to read about credit default swaps in the Netherlands in 1685.
  9. Kurdish Democratic-Confederalism - A people without a nation trying to fight three wars simultaneously, fighting genocide and trying to implement the most interesting anti-capitalist systems around - all at the same time.
  10. The death of the eight hour work day